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First Black Actor's Oscar Goes Missing

Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actor to win an Oscar, but the award went missing several decades later. Thankfully, however, this story has a happy ending.


Hattie McDaniel, the first Black Oscar winner
Hattie McDaniel | Wikipedia

In 1940, after appearing in Gone With the Wind, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actor to win an Oscar - for Best Supporting Actress. In those days it was a plaque - all supporting performance winners between 1936 and 1942 received a plaque, rather than a statue - and she gave the award to Howard University (a private, federally chartered historically black research university in Washington, D.C.) shortly before her death in 1952. However, and nobody really knows why or when, the original disappeared without a trace about 50 years ago.


Now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued a replacement for the historically meaningful missing honor. The original is thought to have disappeared in the late 1960s or early 1970s, perhaps during a period of student unrest, suggests NPR.


“Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her. We are thrilled to present a replacement of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award to Howard University,” say Jacqueline Stewart, director and president of the Academy Museum, and Bill Kramer, the Academy’s CEO, in a statement. “This momentous occasion will celebrate Hattie McDaniel’s remarkable craft and historic win.”


Throughout her career, McDaniel appeared in some 300 films. She received the original plaque - all supporting performance winners between 1936 and 1942 received a plaque, rather than a statue - for her role in 1939’s Gone With the Wind.


After so many years, McDaniel’s fans are glad to see the replacement.


“It’s 100 percent overdue,” Jill Watts, author of Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, said to the Times. “It was so meaningful historically as an award. Not just in the history of film, but also within American history, and it was meaningful to her personally. She would be absolutely delighted to know that it’s going home to where she wanted it to be.”

 
 
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